Mayor's Message: How local government works

Published on 21 July 2021

Cr Robyn Gulline

It is now eight months since I took the Oath as a new Councillor, and it has been a steep yet enjoyable learning curve.

Interestingly, through conversations with community members, many appear to have a limited and sometimes an incorrect understanding the differentiation between the roles and responsibilities of Council (the organisation), Councillors and the CEO.

Councillors, as elected representatives, set the overall direction for the municipality through long-term planning and decision making. We adopt a strategic view of the future we wish to achieve for our community.

It is then up to the CEO and staff to make plans and policies to achieve this.

CEOs are selected by the councillors and are employed on a fixed term contract basis.

The CEO acts as the conduit between council members and council staff. All other council staff, including engineers, planners, financial managers, administrators and outside workers, ultimately receive their direction from, and are responsible to, the CEO.

Staff do not have the ability to make strategic decisions. Instead they are employed because they have the right skills and experience to enact the decisions of Councillors.

While at times it can appear to be more complicated, this is how our Council, and all local government organisations, operate. 

The fact that Councillors are elected by the people means that we can make decisions on behalf of the people. 

However Council does spend considerable time and funds consulting and engaging with the community for feedback on a wide range of issues and topics to assist Councillors in making decisions that meet the diverse needs of the municipal community.

Our Councillor group is connected to different parts of the community which enables a wide range of perspectives and lived experiences to be brought to the decision-making table.

On every issue, Council hears and considers conflicting opinions and views. Unfortunately, not everyone will be happy with every decision.

Another challenge has been to understand what is within the realm of Council to control or influence and where and to who do we need to address through our advocacy work with higher levels of government.

For example, which roads are under the control of the State Government? Council manages almost 3000km of roads and included in the 21/22 budget is $7.3 million for rural roads and bridges (excluding overheads and governance). HRCC has never spent this much on rural roads before and it represents a 27per cent increase on last year’s allocation.

A Councillors role is strategic so understanding the difference between strategic and operational decisions can be difficult.

For example, if you have pothole, please report the details to Council via the website, visit or telephone reception or send an email, so the problem can be prioritised for attention.

Our responsibility as Councillors is to set the road maintenance standards and ensure sufficient funds are in the budget to complete the required works.

Councillors are provided with extensive readings and briefings to assist us in understanding the complexities and variety of issues that we are required to decide including adopting policies, endorsing strategies, and resolving on planning matters.

Collectively, we are working for the benefit and betterment of our municipal community.

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